A small composting bin that can be used at home. One of these was issued to every Portland residence a few years ago. Photo by Nora Hugo.

Orange peels, leftover lettuce, and other food waste items litter the ground surrounding trash cans. Students hardly pay a second thought to the bins, and keep walking. There’s a good chance that this food waste will now go to rot away in a landfill, decomposing into methane and adding to the heaps of garbage and unnecessary waste that litters our planet. 

However, this problem is one that is easily avoided. Portland mandates the use of city-provided curbside composting bins, which help create nutrient-rich soil and generally benefit everyone who participates in this system. This structure only requires Portland homes to participate; it says nothing of schools, whether they be public or private. But this doesn’t mean that schools shouldn’t compost. In fact, the city-mandated home composting systems should be leading the way for schools to start these programs. Before the move to the Marshall campus, Franklin had implemented a composting system which depended on students who ran it. The system fell apart after the renovation, but this by no means indicates a lack of need for composting. 

Merritt Sansom, AP and general chemistry teacher at Franklin, says that “in schools where composting is successfully implemented, waste can be reduced by as much as 95 percent.” Starting a system of composting at Franklin would greatly increase our waste reduction and contribute to the benefits reaped by the city of Portland with the composting system they have implemented. Since janitorial staff are so low on resources, we cannot depend on them to run this system if it is introduced. Increasing funding and numbers of janitorial staff so that they could dedicate more time to running a composting system is a far-off shot that would require district approval, and this issue is simply not high on the district priority list. So the answer to this problem is to have students running the program. It would require a dedicated team of students and possibly community members and parent volunteers to help sort the waste and manage transportation to a composting dumpster, as well as cleaning up after lunch. 

Sansom says that to monitor the effectiveness of this volunteer-run system, we would need to set in place “frequent waste audits to monitor [the] effectiveness of the program.” Once this was implemented, the school would be able to gauge the success of this system. If waste was currently being reduced, the school would need to run the program with volunteers. And it would be difficult work. But the school will be able to see the effects of composting, even if it’s not immediate. Composting helps create more nutrient-enriched soil, beneficial to plant life and even animals that reside in gardens. This soil would be used by the Green Team to further this year’s goal of expanding the school gardens. Up until now, crops of carrots and peas have grown in the school gardens. If supplied with nutrient-rich soil from composting, the expanded gardens could provide resources for some science classes, “even supplying the foods classes with produce,” says Sansom.

If Franklin started a system of composting run by willing volunteers, the long-term benefits would overshadow any hitches along the way. The effort and time put into this system could be difficult to manage, but we need to get rid of the mentality that other people will do this work for us. This is our world, and we need to start taking charge and playing our part in taking care of it. Hold yourself accountable, and take all the opportunities that are offered to better the world, even if it’s something as small as monitoring a composting bin.

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